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UCLA School of Law
Published October 2006, last updated June 2010
The University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (or UCLA for short) is a relative newcomer to the top tier of law schools. Established in 1949, the school quickly gained prestige and acquired a formidable team of professors, securing its place just below the “Top 14” law schools (as dictated by US News and World Report). Currently, UCLA is ranked 15th, the third highest ranked school in California (behind Stanford and UC Berkeley). Many say that the young school is still on the rise, including Robert Schwartz, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid:
UCLA is also an attractive choice for many applicants because of its location: beautiful southern California. Those who are tired of the cold winters in the Northeast or Midwest can find refuge in the sunny state of California. This combination of academic rigor and fabulous weather should make UCLA Law a tempting law school for any applicant. If you’re not sure about applying to law school or just beginning the application process, then please take the time to read some of the excellent pre-law articles found here.
Tuition and Fees
Tuition is a hot topic for all of the UC schools at the moment due to the state’s budget crisis. It is probable that tuition will continue to rise for the next few years, thus erasing the school system’s reputation for its relative affordability. However, for the 2009-2010 school year, in-state tuition was $31,103 and out-of-state tuition was $41,624. While this difference of more than $10,000 may prove discouragingly high, non-residents should take comfort in knowing that they can generally achieve residency – and thus the lower tuition rate – within one year. To read a TLS article about obtaining residency in California, click here.
Students should also be prepared to pay for room & board, books, and miscellaneous fees. With all of these costs included, the total yearly cost of attendance at UCLA is currently roughly $57,000 for California residents and $68,000 for non residents. Given that this can amount to a three-year total of more than $170,000, the prospect of investing such an amount can be daunting.
However, UCLA is generous with its financial aid. In the school’s last ABA report, 61.7% of UCLA admits received a financial aid grant from the school. While the large majority of these students (54.5%) received grants totaling less than half the cost of tuition, 7.1% received grants above such a cost. Overall, the median grant was $6,900.
Most students, however, do end up borrowing money to finance their legal education. Fortunately, unlike students at some schools, where current poor employment prospects might make such debt unjustifiable risk, UCLA Law graduates generally enjoy stellar career prospects. To read a TLS article about funding your legal education, click here. Also, if you plan on pursuing a career in public interest, click here to learn about the new program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness (or PSLF). Finally, to read about a new payment option for federal student loans called IBR (or Income-Based Repayment), click here.”
Obtaining an acceptance letter from UCLA Law is not an easy task by any means; for the fall 2009 class, only 16.75% of applicants were accepted. The school received 8,255 applications and made only 1,383 offers. Of those offers, 320 students decided to matriculate.
The following chart details the school’s LSAT and undergraduate GPA (or UGPA) statistics for the same class. To learn more about preparing for the LSAT from some of the highest scorers on TLS, click here.
The application fee is $75, unless one obtains a merit-based fee waiver via LSAC’s Candidate Referral Service or a need-based fee waiver via e-mailing UCLA’s admissions office. To read more about fee waivers, click here.
Beyond the Numbers
However, the admissions process at UCLA Law isn’t just about the numbers. Dean Schwartz emphasizes that other factors can make the difference in his exclusive interview with Top-Law-Schools.com:
In other words, one would be mistaken to think that meeting the above LSAT and UGPA medians is sufficient for admission to UCLA Law. To the contrary, the admissions office at UCLA, like other schools of similar caliber, receives more than enough applications from students with adequate numbers; thus, they also look to less quantifiable “soft” factors when making their decisions. Applicants should invest a serious amount of time and effort in their essays, emphasizing their unique life/work experiences, extracurricular achievements, and any factor that would bring an element of diversity to the UCLA student body. Your resume is a good way of sharing those factors that make you different in a concise and accessible way. To read some advice about creating a professional law school resume, click here.
One of the best ways to exhibit something interesting about yourself is through your personal statement. Dean Schwartz remarks:
If UCLA is truly your number one choice, incorporating that fact into your personal statement is definitely seen as a positive mark by the Admissions Office. Dean Schwartz says that “we are interested in any attributes, experiences or interests that would enable you to make a distinctive contribution to UCLA Law.”
UCLA Law also accepts diversity statements, asserting that “anyone who wishes to provide such a statement should do so.” A diversity statement should be seen as yet another chance to separate yourself from your fellow applicants. Diversity isn’t just limited to ethnicity or culture, either; one can make an excellent topic out of one’s socioeconomic condition or sexual orientation.
Finally, if you’re interested in improving your personal statement or even just looking for ideas to write about, Ken DeLeon, the creator of Top-Law-Schools.com, wrote a fantastic guide to personal statements which can be found here for free.
When to Apply
Applicants who are truly dedicated to attending UCLA can apply to the school using the Early Decision (or ED) program. If accepted, applicants are required to withdraw all of their other applications and attend UCLA. In order to utilize the ED option, prospective students must send in “a complete Early Decision Program Agreement and all necessary application materials” no later than November 15th. Those who apply using the ED program will hear back by the “end of December.” The application deadline for RD applicants is February 1st. To read a TLS article about deciding between ED and RD (or Regular Decision), click here.
In general, Dean Schwartz had the following to say about applying early:
That being said, it’s probably better to submit your materials in September rather than January. Even if decisions aren’t made on a strictly-rolling basis, the fact remains that there are more spots open earlier on in the admissions cycle.
Letters of Recommendation
UCLA requires at least two (but no more than three) letters of recommendation with your application. The school also requests that at least one letter come from an academic source. As with most other schools, UCLA Law suggests that you get letters of recommendation from professors or employers that know you best. Dean Schwartz says:
To get some additional advice on obtaining letters of recommendation, click here.
Multiple LSATs and Other Addenda
UCLA mainly considers an applicant’s highest LSAT score, although it will look at all of them. Dean Schwartz says:
One should also consider writing an addendum if one has an issue with one’s UGPA, such as a downward trend. The school will take into account factors like family illness, work responsibilities, etc. when making its decisions, and an addendum can help mitigate the damage of a lower GPA. For more information about writing addendums, click here.
If you end up on the waitlist, all hope is not lost. Dean Schwartz remarks that the school “admit[s] a significant percent of our class each year from the wait list,” although exact numbers are not readily available. In fact, Dean Schwartz even encourages applicants to contact the school directly to “discuss their chances of admission.”
The school also encourages applicants to submit periodic LOCI (or letters of continued interest). These updates can be submitted as often as once a month “either via e-mail at email@example.com or standard mail to the Office of Admissions at UCLA School of Law.” Dean Schwartz has the following advice for LOCI:
Often, candidates wonder what else they can do to get off the waitlist. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be “not much”:
The application process is quite a bit different for transfer students. Last year, 38 students transferred into UCLA and 10 students transferred out. Dean Schwartz gives the following criteria on reviewing transfer students:
Thus, if you’re not a good standardized test taker and bombed the LSAT, you could conceivably transfer to UCLA if your first year grades are good enough. That being said, going to a school with the idea of transferring is always a bad idea just because it’s so difficult to get accepted as a transfer student. In general, one should be happy attending their 1L law school choice. To read a fantastic article about transferring, click here.
URMs (or Underrepresented Minorities)
Because of their disadvantaged histories in the United States, certain minorities enjoy a significant boost in the application process. To read more about this boost and to see whether you classify as an URM, click here. In addition, there are many pre-law programs specifically created to help URM applicants get accepted to top schools. To read more about some of these programs, click here.
Final Words about Admissions
One should feel immensely privileged to obtain an acceptance to UCLA Law, as it is one of the finest law schools in the country. If one is lucky enough to have a choice between UCLA Law and other top law schools, Dean Schwartz has the following wise words of advice:
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Law School Culture
One of UCLA’s biggest draws is its fantastic location. The school’s proximity to Los Angeles allows students to experience a bustling city, but there is the opportunity to relax as well. The school’s campus is cradled in rolling green hills about five miles from the Pacific Ocean and bordered on the north by the protected wilderness of the Santa Monica Mountains. The law school offers a full array of performing arts including concerts, theater, ballet, opera, and the symphony as well as lectures, forums, and seminars--both throughout the city and at the law school. Dean Schwartz explains in detail:
Meanwhile, Los Angeles serves as a major cultural and recreational hub, hosting various sporting and entertainment events and offering scores of theaters, museums, and cultural centers. The city’s global reach, environmental diversity (where you can hike, snowboard, and go to the beach all in the same day), and perpetually desirable weather further enhance the quality of life for our law students. The only negative that Dean Schwartz mentions is the heavy traffic of the Los Angeles area, but this can be “easily avoided by living on campus or close to campus.”
However, what do the students think about living at UCLA? Unsurprisingly, they seem to agree with the Dean that the Westwood area (where UCLA is located) is a wonderful place to spend three years. One student writes:
If you want to get the full UCLA Law experience, then Weyburn Terrace, the campus apartment buildings, is a popular location to live, especially for first years (or 1Ls). Many 1L activities tend to revolve around Weyburn Terrace and the surrounding area, so living elsewhere might make it more difficult to bond with your classmates. One student remarked: “Live in Weyburn. Trust me. It is the center of social life for 1L's and you will be so left out if you don't live there.” Another student further emphasizes this point, stating: “Most students live in the Westwood area. Most students who don't live in Weyburn live off of Wilshire (south Westwood). I live in Weyburn, which is fantastic. For what I'm paying (1k/month, everything included - except parking), it's a great deal.”
The Student Body
UCLA Law, like other top law schools, is dedicated to putting together a diverse group of individuals in each entering class. The following chart gives the class makeup for the Class of 2012:
The most represented undergraduate schools (by number of students enrolled) are mainly located in California: UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Southern California, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and Stanford University. However, several Ivy League universities also make an appearance: University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, and Harvard University.
Many students are nervous about networking and making friends when they first arrive at law school. However, one student reassures prospective students that making friends is “really, really easy”:
Another student emphasizes this point, stating, “UCLA Law School is a nurturing haven where the professors have coffee with you and the person to your left is sporting a genuine smile.” That being said, the same student warns that things can get a little insulated at UCLA:
Also, competition can get fierce when memos are due and exams are coming up:
In general, though, many students report that making friends at UCLA Law should be a relatively painless process. With “approximately 1115” students at the law school, you should be able to find plenty of people that you get along with!
Students seem to agree that one aspect of UCLA where there is room for improvement is in the learning facilities of the law school. One student describes the two lecture halls as “horribly outdated and too large,” and remarks that the “smaller classrooms are better, but still not perfect.” However, he concedes that “the law library is incredible, and as a student, that's where you're going to spend most of your time anyway.”
However, the school does offer an exceptional selection when it comes to athletics. Students can take advantage of extensive tennis and racquetball courts, a full-service gymnasium and recreation program, four swimming pools, playing fields, and running tracks.
Like many other top law schools, the choices are practically endless when it comes to extracurricular activities. There are nearly 40 different student organizations that students can get involved with; some include the Animal Law Society, the China Law Association, and the Environmental Law Society. Students can also get involved with the UCLA Law Softball League, soccer, intramural basketball, etc. Overall, you should be able to find at least one organization on campus that is relevant to your interests.
UCLA Law has an impressive thirteen different student-run journals that span a variety of subjects. These include: the UCLA Law Review, the Asian Pacific American Law Journal, the Chicano/a – Latino/a Law Review, the Dukeminier Awards Journal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law, the Entertainment Law Review, the Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, the Journal of International Law & Foreign Affairs, the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, the Journal of Law & Technology, the Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal, the National Black Law Journal, the Pacific Basin Law Journal, and the Women’s Law Journal.
Each of the journals has different requirements for becoming a member. The most difficult journal to join is probably the UCLA Law Review, the school’s flagship journal. Those who are interested can compete in the journal’s Write-on competition, which “first year students complete over their spring break.” Selected students become staff members for the year, and those who show “diligence, attention to detail, demonstrated leadership abilities, and service to the Law Review during their staff year” get the opportunity to be editors during their third year at the law school. Other journals do not have stringent requirements; for instance, the Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal asks students to submit their “resume, statement of interest, and cite checking exercise” to an e-mail address, and the Pacific Basin Law Journal simply requests that students contact their Recruitment coordinator.
The journals at UCLA Law span a vast array of different subjects, and many of the journals are renowned in their respective fields. For instance, the Chicano/a – Latino/a Law Review is “the first legal journal that recognized how common law, statutes, legislative policy, and politically popular propositions impact the Latino community,” and has been “publishing strong scholarly work on affirmative action and education, Spanish and Mexican land grants, environmental justice, language rights, and immigration reform” since 1972. In addition, the Pacific Basic Law Journal is the “only law review in the country devoted to the study of international and comparative law within the rapidly developing economic sphere of the Pacific Basin.” Finally, the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law is the “first journal in the United States dedicated to this area of study.” The journal deals with the “complex and multifaceted issues of Islamic and Near Eastern law and its applications and effects within and outside of the Near East.” To read more about these fascinating journals and others, just click the links given above.(back to top)
Unsurprisingly, in terms of academics, UCLA Law is one of the top schools in the country. Brian Leiter, the University of Chicago professor and rankings guru, places UCLA Law’s faculty as the 10th best (by mean per capita) in the nation based on scholarly impact, and with the school’s decent student to professor ratio of 13 to 1, students should be able to get one-on-one time with their teachers In terms of entering students’ numerical (LSAT and GPA) quality, UCLA ranks 15th in the nation. UCLA is also strong in many different specialties: intellectual property law, environmental law, trial advocacy, clinical training, international law, and particularly tax law. Finally, given the school’s location in Los Angeles, it is not surprising that UCLA Law is also regarded as having one of the nation’s finest programs in entertainment law.
The curve for classes at UCLA Law is quite generous and depends on the performance of your class as a whole. The following chart shows the distribution of grades for different years of law school:
The school also offers several joint degree programs with many other graduate programs, including the highly regarded Anderson School of Business. Students interested in joint degrees, however, should be aware that scheduling conflicts are common, since UCLA Law School is on the semester system and the rest of the campus is on quarters. Dean Schill emphasizes that taking classes in other departments is possible; it just requires planning. To read more about joint degrees and why one might pursue one, click here and here.
UCLA Law’s David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law & Policy is an “unbelievable public interest program.” Professor Ann Carlson sums up the program:
Dean Schill further explains:
The program “provides an array of opportunities for students to hear speakers, work on current policy problems, and become involved in public interest activities outside the School of Law.” In other words, the school really takes care of its public interest students; you get your own curriculum, a core group of faculty that supervise and mentor you, and a small, tightly-knit group of public interest students to bond with and learn from. Most students enter the program for their 1L years, but the school reserves a small number of slots (approximately five) for students wishing to apply for their 2L years.
There are a number of fellowships that one can receive for summer funding, and one can also pursue non-UCLA funding opportunities. The Office of Public Interest Programs maintains a database where one can find “information about specific sources of auxiliary funding available nationwide to support summer public interest work.” The school also has a LAP (or Loan Assistance Program) where public interest students can get most of their loans forgiven if they stay in public interest work after graduation. More information can be found on UCLA’s website.
If you’re a particularly strong candidate for admission at UCLA Law, you might be offered the Emil Joseph Stache Scholarship. This scholarship is for full tuition and is awarded to only two students every year. The scholarship is initially only effective for one year, but can be renewed if one achieves “satisfactory academic performance and full participation in Program activities.”
The clinical program at UCLA Law is superb. Students can pick from nearly twenty different in-house clinics, ranging in subject and scope from immigration to criminal defense. UCLA has opened up three new clinics for the 2009-2010 school year, including a bankruptcy transactions course, a civil rights litigation clinic, and a regulatory lawyering clinic.
UCLA is proud of several distinctive features of its program. First, the clinics at UCLA focus on “teaching transferrable skills.” This means that clinics work to create conceptual frameworks for students. This broader lesson plan creates a strong foundation for specific skills that students have to learn. This allows students to be better lawyers and to utilize skills over a larger and more substantial area. In the more specialized clinics, students get hands-on experience in representing actual clients or simulated clients in realistic scenarios.
The school also has an interesting “borrowing” system, where clinics will become co-counsel with local public interest organizations and law firms on certain cases. UCLA’s website explains:
Finally, the school’s externship program is worthy of mention. The school gives students the opportunity to extern in a judge’s chambers or for a government or non-profit organization. Students enroll either in their fourth or fifth semesters at the law school, and they receive class credit for their work. Judicial externships are confined to the Los Angeles area, but students end up in cities as varied as New York and Washington D.C. for the government/non-profit externships. To learn more about UCLA’s fantastic clinics, click here.
As with any other school, the professors can be hit or miss. One student described his experiences: “Two of my professors this year have been horrible – as in unbelievably bad. Two of them actually have been really cool and I really liked them.” Of course, different students will like different professors; maybe this student was just unlucky. Another student wrote a glowing review of his 1L year’s professors:
One of prospective students’ biggest fears entering law school seems to be the dreaded “Socratic Method.” The idea that law professors love to humiliate their students has permeated common thought (perhaps because of the movie “The Paper Chase”), but fret not! A student reassures us that the Socratic Method isn’t the worst thing in the world:
Finally, for exams, one student just advises that you “do all of the practice answers, and practice writing in the same style as the samples they provide.” There is plenty of advice about study guides, supplements, pre-law-school reading, etc. littered throughout the TLS forums that will help you out, so search around and you’re sure to find some answers!(back to top)
Generally, when students come to UCLA, they stay for the entire three years. In the school’s last ABA report, it was reported that JD attrition for the 1L class was only 4.6%. That attrition rate drops rapidly for 2Ls (0.9%) and 3Ls (0.8%). In other words, you’ll be competing with the vast majority of your 1L classmates for jobs when OCI time rolls around.
Likewise, most students pass the notoriously difficult California bar the first time that they take it. The school reports that for the Class of 2008, “Approximately 90% of UCLA Law first-time test takers passed the July 2008 California Bar exam, compared to California's statewide average of 75%.” This is a significant difference of 15%.
The school gives detailed statistics on where the Class of 2009 found employment and reports that, “97.41% of 2009 UCLA Law School graduates seeking employment secured professional employment within 9 months of graduation.”
These percentages do not add up to 100% (they add up to 109.72%!), so this is slightly confusing information. Nonetheless, one can see that the employment pattern follows most schools’: the majority of students find employment in private practice, with government jobs and clerkships coming in at a distance second and third. The school gives the following subcategories of law firm size for private practice employment:
Finally let’s look at the salary ranges for each of these firm sizes. Please note that this information comes from a limited data set; the school writes, “Salary statistics are full-time only for those who reported salary information.” Because it is not entirely clear what percent of students submitted their salary information, it is hard to tell how reliable the following data is.
As can be seen from above, generally, the bigger a law firm is, the more it pays its attorneys. With 59.05% of those who found law firm employment (or 40.41% of graduates in general) placing into the highest employment bracket, prospects look pretty good for UCLA graduates that manage to score above median. However, keep in mind that employment prospects have gotten worse since the Class of 2009 found jobs; thus, you might need to place higher in your class in order to secure high-paying employment. One student confirms this analysis, writing:
In other words, if you want a coveted firm job, you might have to pursue means other than OCI (On-Campus Interviews). Obviously, there are other jobs available in different sectors of the industry (public interest, government, academia, clerkships, etc.), but those interested in making the big bucks might have to put a little extra legwork into their job searches. Those who miss the biglaw boat can end up working at small law firms in the area that pay much lower salaries. One student speaks anecdotally:
While these kinds of anecdotal stories should be taken with a grain of salt, it does demonstrate that things might not be all sunshine and roses for all graduates over at UCLA. As expected, with the law market changing, summer associate opportunities are also drying up. A current student confirms this:
So be ready to make good grades, brush up on your interviewing skills, and actually do some legwork if you want one of these coveted positions. With the market changing, many students are coming to the realization that they will have to find work elsewhere. One student lists some of the possibilities for a 1L:
Things become slightly more promising when 2L summer rolls around; one student knows “plenty” of 2Ls that have associateships for the summer, though he concedes that he also knows plenty that don’t.
For the students who are more interested in clerkships, the clerkship program is on the rise at UCLA. Dean Schill described increasing clerkships as one of the school’s “top priorities,” and the faculty and Dean Schill work together with students to phone judges and make recommendations. UCLA’s website also clarifies that “as a service to students, the Office processes faculty letters of recommendation, includes the letters in the student application packets and sends out the complete packets to all judges.”
Finally, for aspiring academics, UCLA isn’t a bad choice either. The Dean is working actively to increase the number of people going into academic careers and is expecting “real returns.” The school just recently started a Law and Philosophy department, and wants to further expand with a Law and Economics department as well as a Law and Sociology department.
Employment is a tricky subject right now, because no one is sure how the market will be restructured to accommodate the troubled economy. Nearly all UCLA graduates are still finding employment after graduating, and UCLA’s website reports the median private-sector salary as $160,000. In general, going to law school and trying to find a job is a stressful process, but with a little bit of luck and some legwork, it’s still possible to find a high-paying job in your field of interest. OCI is no guarantee anymore, though, especially for firms that are outside of southern California. But UCLA’s alumni network is very strong, and Dean Schill from UCLA argues that the only reason that most students stay in California is because of self selection; Dean Schill writes:
While Dean Schill might be exaggerating slightly, some opportunities do exist for students outside of California.
UCLA Law is a relatively young school, but it has quickly made a name for itself among the top law schools in the country. Students and faculty alike are excited about the changes currently afoot. Facilities are being renovated, new professors are being recruited, and the public interest program continues to grow. Combine those factors with the vitalizing atmosphere of southern California and the Los Angeles area, and you’ve got a school that should be tempting for any applicant.
Contact and Admissions Information
U.S. News Ranking: 15
Interview: Dean Robert Schwartz at UCLA School of Law
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